ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Rescripting India’s Engagement with Afghanistan

The ways of rescripting India’s language of engagement with non-state armed groups like the Taliban are discussed. The engagement essentially does not accord moral legitimacy to acts of violence by the Taliban, but pushes for refashioning India’s image from being an “alien” other to a “differentiated” other.


On 15 August 2021, the Taliban entered Kabul, which officially marked the fall of the elected Afghan government. With the United States (US) withdrawal slated for 31 August 2021, this was a momentous point in the history of Afghanistan, though not completely surprising. The images of Taliban fighters posing behind the massive desk at the pre­sidential palace in Kabul was a grim reminder of the competing claims for empire in between modernity and religion.

Afghanistan is an interesting site for analysis for scholars of international politics and diplomacy, as both historically and in contemporary times, it escapes the conventional straitjacketed filters of international relations such as state, empire, diplomacy, coloniality, modernity, liberal democracy, and, more importantly, religion. So what happens when Taliban, a non-state armed group with a declared allegiance to an idea of fundamentals of Islam, assumes power and vows to bring back religious and customary practices like the sharia law to the centre stage of its engagement at home and abroad? Does it mean that the international world, including India, keeps off a political actor like the Taliban, which is rescripting the geopolitical realities of regional and global order? If yes, what is the rationality that guides the terms of non-engagement with a non-state armed group? If it is the group’s avowed commitment to use violence and non-commitment to the norms of international accountability, it appears to be a valid rational choice; however, if it is the hesitancy to engage with political actors that employ religious vocabulary, then probably it requires some critical recalibration, putting to use the frameworks that Mark Juergensmeyer and Mona Kanwal Sheikh (2013) classify as a “socio-theological approach.” This app­roach enables an investigation of how social reality looks through the eyes of religious actors (including non-state armed groups), in this case the Taliban, and it can possibly provide a language that speaks to political actors with religious aims. It is important to underline that a socio-theological framework is not limited or bound to the study of religion but is pertinent as it takes the subject’s point of view and its social location as the starting point of analysis (Sheikh 2015). This is significant as “Afghanistan has been telescopically constructed from the standpoint of imperial Governments, British and the Russian Empire in the early 19th century,” and now the imperial US intervention, and in the process, the study of its “history and character has been subservient to a master narrative of imperial rivalry” (Drephal 2019: 7). A socio-theological approach recognises that “politics has a religious side and religion can be an inherent part of public and political life” (Sheikh 2015: 136) and hence challenges the conventional Westphalian understanding of state, modernity, and order that rests on Western philosophy and strategic thought. I argue this with a word of caution, as this approach does not mean bringing back religion to the public sphere and doing away with the much-celebrated scientific rationality. It only makes a limited argument that there is a need to provide a space to better understand the nexus between state religion and now governance in Afghanistan. This is important as this is a reality that both India and the world need to deal with, as the Taliban is in the driver’s seat of government.

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Updated On : 2nd Oct, 2021
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